describing the pursuit, brief investigative stop and release of the
plaintiffs, while plaintiffs have offered no objective facts or evidence
exhibiting inappropriate conduct by defendants. Plaintiffs have failed to
meet the requirements of the test set forth in Hudson River Sloop
Clearwater v. Dept. of the Navy, and they have had a full and fair
opportunity to discover facts relevant to their claims. Insofar as
plaintiffs attempt to raise an objection under Rule 56(f), that objection
is denied and the court will address the instant motions.
II. Detaining Suspects
In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), the
Supreme Court held that a police officer has the right to stop and detain
a citizen if the officer's action was reasonable. Police making a Terry
stop, however, must be able to elicit something more than an "inchoate
and unparticularized suspicion or hunch." United States v. Sokolow,
490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 1585, 104 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989) (citation
omitted). The police must denote "specific and articulable facts which,
taken together with rational inferences from those facts reasonably
warrant that intrusion." Id. at 12, 109 S.Ct. at 1588 (citation
omitted). Under Terry and its progeny, an investigating officer may
briefly detain an individual for questioning so long as the officer has
"a reasonable suspicion supported by clearly defined facts that criminal
activity may be afoot." Id. at 7, 109 S.Ct. at 1585. If an investigative
stop is appropriately premised, its scope and duration must be
reasonable. See United States v. Tehrani, 49 F.3d 54, 58 (2d Cir. 1995).
A circumscribed stop does not transgress the Constitution, even though
probable cause may be wanting. See United States v. Glover, 957 F.2d 1004,
1008 (2d Cir. 1992). Additionally, the officer then may frisk the
individual for weapons if the officer reasonably believes the person to
be armed and presently dangerous. See Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-24, 88 S.Ct.
at 1879-83. An otherwise intrusive detention has been found to be a
protected Terry stop where police had a reasonable basis to believe the
suspect was carrying a weapon or otherwise menacing. Even in cases where
police have handcuffed or place persons in patrol cars, courts have
determined that under the particular circumstances in each given case,
the seizures were valid Terry stops rather than full scale arrests. See
United States v. Parr, 843 F.2d 1228, 1230 (9th Cir. 1988); see also
Dempsey v. Town of Brighton., 749 F. Supp. 1215 W.D.N.Y. 1990, aff'd
without opinion, 940 F.2d 648 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 925, 112
S.Ct. 338, 116 L.Ed.2d 278 (1991) (no constitutional violation during
investigative stop where police had unholstered guns, handcuffed
plaintiff and conducted pat down search for weapons because plaintiff
resembled bank robbery suspect and police were reasonable in
investigating him); United States v. Lechuga, 925 F.2d 1035, 1039-40 (7th
Cir. 1991) (police may, in appropriate circumstances, block suspect's
vehicle, order suspect to lie and the ground and detain suspect for long
periods while the police check for outstanding warrants); Michigan v.
Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1050 n. 14, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 3481 n. 14, 77 L.Ed.2d
1201 (1990) (police may make area search for weapons during investigative
stop in situations where officers have a reasonable belief that suspect
is potentially dangerous to them).
More specifically, in evaluating whether an investigative stop is
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the reviewing court must determine
"whether the officer's action was justified at its inception, and whether
it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified
the interference in the first place." Terry, 392 U.S. at 20, 88 S.Ct. at
1879. Under the first element of this inquiry, an investigative stop does
not meet the requirements of the Fourth Amendment unless "specific
articulable facts, together with reasonable inferences from those facts,
reasonably warrant suspicion"
that the individual stopped was engaged in criminal activity. United
States v. Brignoni — Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 884, 95 S.Ct. 2574,
2581, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975). Under the second element, "an investigative
detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to
effectuate the purpose of the stop the investigative methods employed
should be the least intrusive means reasonably available to verify or
dispel the officer's suspicion in a short period of time." Florida v.
Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 1325, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983).
In this case, the defendant police personnel had reasonable grounds for
believing plaintiffs might be suspects in the commission of serious
crimes. It is undisputed that two burglars entered Barnes' dwelling in
Lee, New York on September 12, 1994, and that he had been shot by one of
the intruders. Barnes described the duo to the police at the crime scene
as a black and a white male, each about six feet tall and weighing
between 170-180 pounds, and stated the black male had fired the shot that
wounded him. One of the investigating officers then radioed this
information to the OCSD's dispatcher and other OCSD patrol cars operating
in the area. This dispatcher further disseminated the crime report with
the suspects' description to other police patrols and law enforcement
departments in the area.
Police personnel in the vicinity received the report of the crime and
the suspects' description and immediately instituted a search for the
culprits. A truck with two occupants, a black driver and a white
passenger, coming from the direction of the crime scene, was soon located
by police patrols and detained for investigation. As discussed above,
after the truck had been stopped, officers drew their guns and ordered
the truck's occupants — plaintiffs — to exit and lie on the
ground. They were handcuffed and frisked. The frisk and search of the
truck yielded no weapons of evidence tying plaintiffs to the armed
intrusion. Upon inquiry as to their whereabouts during the time the
Barnes was shot, plaintiffs stated they were purchasing automobile
parts. The officers on the scene quickly verified this information with a
phone call and immediately released plaintiffs.
Defendants comported themselves properly: serious crimes, including a
shooting, just had been committed and the plaintiffs, who were traveling
from the direction of the crime scene, resembled the description of the
perpetrators. Under the conditions, the officers were justified in acting
cautiously and it was not unreasonable to conclude that the plaintiffs,
who resembled the suspects, had a gun and were willing to use it. The
police diligently and commendably pursued a means of investigation that
was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions. See United States v.
Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 686, 105 S.Ct. 1568, 1575, 84 L.Ed.2d 605 (1985).
Plaintiffs were handcuffed only briefly and defendants made speedy and
appropriate inquiries in a plausible way which led to their quick
release. In United States v. Tehrani, 49 F.3d 54, 61 (2d Cir. 1995), the
Court of Appeals held that a thirty minute detention based on reasonable
suspicion is not, per se, too long: the time of the investigative stop
here was approximately twenty minutes, and likewise "no longer than [was]
necessary to effectuate [its] purpose." Royer, 460 U.S. at 500, 103
S.Ct. at 1325.
III. Qualified Immunity
As the court has found infra, the defendants who took part in the
various aspects of plaintiffs' brief detention acted reasonably under
Fourth Amendment criteria. However, even if the court had determined that
there was insufficient basis for the stop, or that the stop was too
long, the officers are safeguarded by qualifled immunity.
Qualified immunity is a defense that, if proven, shields government
agents from individual liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does "not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known." Kaminsky v. Rosenblum, 929 F.2d 922,
925 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102
S.Ct. 2727, 2728, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). Even if the rights in question
are clearly established, a government actor may still be shielded by
qualified immunity if "it was objectively reasonable for the public
official to believe that his acts did not violate those rights."
Kaminsky, 929 F.2d at 925.
Police officers are protected from § 1983 liability if it was
"objectively reasonable" for them to believe they were acting in a way
that did not violate a clearly established federal right. Lennon v.
Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 420 (2d Cir. 1995). The police officers involved in
the stop of the plaintiffs are entitled to qualified immunity on the
grounds that their actions were objectively reasonable unless "no officer
of reasonable competence could have made the same choice in similar
circumstances." Id. at 420-21. The facts surrounding the plaintiffs
investigative stop have already been detailed in this memorandum and the
court finds that reasonable police officers certainly could have believed
that the procedures employed by the officers in conducting the stop were
proper and not unconstitutionally excessive in light of clearly
IV. The Municipal and County Defendants
In Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York,
436 U.S. 658, 692, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), the Supreme
Court ruled that a municipality could incur § 1983 liability "only
when a municipality, through the execution of its policies actually
deprives an individual of his constitutional rights." In their
complaint, plaintiffs raise various claims against the city of Rome, its
mayor and chief of police (the latter two in both their individual and
official capacities) and against those RPD police officers discussed
above. Plaintiffs allege a constitutional rights deprivation policy
existed in Rome that was implemented by the various defendants. Similar
claims are asserted against Oneida County, the OCSD and several of its
deputy sheriffs in their individual and official capacities.
A local government cannot be held liable under § 1983 "unless
action pursuant to official policy of some nature caused a constitutional
tort." Monell, 436 U.S. at 691, 98 S.Ct. at 2036. The court, of course,
already has found that the actions of the respective defendant officers
and deputies did not violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights; naturally
it follows that plaintiffs' Monell claims cannot have merit.
Based upon the foregoing, defendants' summary judgment motions are
GRANTED and the complaint is dismissed.
IT IS SO ORDERED
*fn2 Although named as defendants, RPD officers Fred Rehinski and John
Keyes were not present that evening and had no involvement with the stop
of plaintiffs' truck.
*fn3 Charles Scheiderich, named as a defendant in this suit, was
off-duty on the night in question and was at his residence when the stop
*fn4 Although plaintiffs entered opposition to the Rome defendants'
summary judgment motion, they did not oppose the Oneida defendants'
dispositive motion. The information contained in plaintiffs' opposition
papers is sufficient to address both motions, however, so the court will
consider plaintiffs' papers sufficient to oppose both motions.